Why We Love To Hate FrontPage

I wanted to get back to my "Why I hate FrontPage" kick.  As some of you no doubt figured out from the responses to my original post, the thing I always hated most about FrontPage, the mucking with my code, was fixed in FrontPage 2003.  If you've used it, you know that FrontPage is much more code friendly than it was in previous years.  This is great news for those of us who love to work with code.  If you haven't worked with it, I strongly encourage you to play with the online trial or order the trial CD.

FrontPage is no longer your mother's (or grandmother's) Web package.  It's not just for beginners anymore.

As an exercise, I decided to do some additional research on why people hate FrontPage.  FrontPage has a BAD reputation, and that's sad because there are some very cool things about FrontPage ... at least FrontPage 2003. 

Problem #1:  Background

Of course, the most hated issue was that FrontPage mucked with the code, but this was such a common problem in early WYSIWYG HTML editors, that I don't understand why people lay this problem solely on FrontPage's doorstep, except perhaps that the people who are complaining haven't used other WYSIWYG HTML editors and haven't upgraded to a version newer than FrontPage Express or FrontPage 97.

To give you a bit of background, the first Web package I ever worked with was ... okay, I'll say it ... Net Objects Fusion.  I don't think even it exists anymore, and no wonder.  The HTML code that it generated was as UGLY.  I'm talking UHH - GLY!  If you thought FrontPage was bad, you haven't seen anything.  At the time I didn't know any better, but then I learned, and Notepad became my best friend.

Homesite came next, and it was much better -- definitely better than NOF and cooler than Notepad.  (Side note:  I was first introduced to Homesite because it shipped with NOF.  Great tool, strange marketing strategy.)  But even Homesite had problems with WYSIWYG editing.  I remember once clicking on the design view in Homesite and getting a message that switching to design view would mess up my code (my words, not the actual message), and did I want to continue.  No way!  I had learned that lesson already, and I wasn't letting anything touch my code.

FrontPage 2003 really is the best I've worked with yet.  (Yes, I have worked with Dreamweaver, and, No, no one paid me to say that!)  FrontPage added several features in 2003 that were designed solely for developers.  IntelliSense is my favorite.  (Ah, visions of Homesite spin through my head...)  Split view is a nice feature.  And, most importantly, no more mucking up my code.

Problem #2: Dependencies

The second most hated problem with FrontPage is dependencies ... specifically FrontPage Server Extensions.  (Yes, I hate them, too.)  In FrontPage 2003, most of the FPSE dependencies have been removed.  Now, when you use the Database Interface Wizard to add database results to a Web page, you can have the results returned in classic ASP or ASP.NET code.  I have to be honest:  I don't much care for all the webbot code mixed in with the ASP, but I'm sure it's there for backwards compatibility.

Although many of the dependencies on FrontPage Server Extensions are gone in 2003, FrontPage includes additional dependencies for Windows SharePoint Services.  This can be seen as both good and bad.

I work with WSS sites every day.  All my content goes onto a WSS site.  I have my internal Microsoft tech reviewers open articles from a WSS site to review and comment on articles we are getting ready to publish.  I think WSS is very cool, and I think it's even cooler that I can pull my WSS site into FrontPage and change the way it looks, add images, change text.  The WSS site admin tool is okay for simple stuff, but with FrontPage, I can give my WSS site a whole other look.  I can even change it so much that people don't know it's a WSS site.

The downside, IMHO, is that WSS is for intranets and extranets (although I have been told that it can be used with Internet sites as well).  This in it self isn't a big issue, except that many of the features that require WSS are VERY COOL ... (and it's frustrating that I can't use them in my own Web site, unless I ask my ISP to install WSS, at which point they would surely groan at yet another server dependency to support, because I've already asked them to install FPSE and the .NET Framework, neither of which they've installed or configured correctly...) ... like WYSIWYG XSLT editing.  From what I understand, FrontPage is the ONLY tool available for WYSIWYG XSLT editing ... but only within WSS sites, and then only within the XSLT Web part.

Problem #3:  Dependencies

This deserves another mention.  You see, the problems with FPSE dependencies are less an issue with FrontPage and more and issue with the FrontPage Server Extensions.  Okay, I acknowledge that I generally like to leave the server stuff to someone else, but lately I've been working with FPSE, and all I can say is administering the FPSEs sucks ... and that's the polite version!  It's not that it's so hard; it's just so confusing and frustrating and ....  If all I had to do was apply the settings in the FPSE admin console, it would be fine, but there are OS settings, and IIS settings, and a host of other issues.  I won't tell you the hoops I had to jump through in order get anonymous browsing to work on my 2003 machine.  And depending on the OS that you have, you may need to configure different server settings.

Windows 2003 is locked down much more than 2000 or NT, so I'm sure the issues I encountered were different from those of many of our users, and I suppose the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  I gained a new level of respect and admiration for server admins who have to administer FPSEs.  My purpose in going through this pain?  To understand what was wrong with the FPSE pages on MSDN.  (They are the most widely visited and poorest rated pages in the FrontPage developer portal.)  Yes, they are horrible, but I am working on it, and gradually, they should improve.

Feedback, even negative feedback, is a wonderful thing ...

Comments (12)

  1. Security says:

    Lisa, you missed one of the top reasons to hate FrontPage and its reliance on FPSE. Security.

    I’ve had two servers on our DMZ compromised and exploited by hackers solely because I had FPSE running on them. Do you know if the new the SharePoint-based extensions have overcome the security problems? More than one ops department I’ve worked with would not support a solution that required the use of FPSE based solely on the bad security rap.

    This article killed one project I was working on:



  2. rajbk says:

    Here are my thoughts on FrontPage.

    FrontPage 2003 is excellent – Please pass my compliments to the Team.

    There was one big let down though. Our Office, which has around 43 PageMasters (Like Webmasters but responsible for content only), currently uses DreamWeaver 2004. We had set up templates so that the page masters could easily add pages to their respective site and stick with the official template. We were looking forward to move evertying over to FrontPage 2003 because we read on the FrontPage website a while back that it had support for DreamWeaver templates. Unfortunately, the support for templates, as you know is *very* limited and the template code is compatible with the older Dreamweaver MX. We cannot switch to FrontPage 2003 because we have made extensive use of things like Dreamweaver Parameters, Multiple Inheritance, Repeating regions.

    So my only request to the development team is to provide us with a better more advanced template system (which does not necessarily have to be compatible with DreamWeaver 2004 but is equal to or better than Dreamweaver 2004.

    You could argue with me that if you really need complex templates, why not create a dynamic website using asp.net or why not use Content Management Server. My answers are a) the page masters do not know programming languages b)It is too expensive for us, an educational institution, to afford.

    A lower proirity request would be to somehow get rid of all those _vti_cnf folders. Why do you need them? Why can’t you store the entire system structure in a small database on the remote or local server?

    Again, we love all the other features of FrontPage 2003.

  3. I don’t think Lisa missed your ‘top reason’ at all – Security is no more or less of an issue with FrontPage than it is with other software and operating systems. A flaw is discovered, a patch is offered, you apply the patch and move on. If your site or project is running on a vulnerable server, it’s time to find a new web host that knows what they’re doing.

  4. By the way – I got Frontpage for my wife, so she can maintain our daughter’s web site (http://www.lucille-alsdorf-williams.com). She loves it: "its great, easy to use, like Word."

  5. Francisco Mejia says:

    If you have played with the Visual Studio IDE

    and then try the application development capabilities of front page is a let down!

    I am terribly disappointed

    my opinion


  6. Lisa Wollin says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that FrontPage is NOT intended to replace VS for application development. The expected interop scenario is that devs will use VS to program Web apps, and designers will use FP to make it pretty.

    For this expected scenario FrontPage and VS work very well together. VS does what developers expect it to do, and FrontPage continues to do what it does best: help designers to design Web pages with a great WYSIWYG interface.

    Things you cannot do in FrontPage:

    – Compile Web app code.

    – Create Web controls.

    Beyond these two things, you can do almost anything in FP that you can do in VS. However, not to beat a dead horse, FP is not intended for sophisticated, hard-core Web application development. For this you definitely need VS.NET.

  7. Adam says:

    Source-code-control integration absolutely sucks in FrontPage. This is another big dependency on FPSE. If you want to integrate with VSS, you have to install FPSE. But this doesn’t work if your server is using WSS.

    So you are stuck with a server that only has FPSE. And even with FPSE, you are stuck with lame VSS integration.

    I haven’t found any web development apps that integrate well with other SCC providers. Even Dreamweaver sucks.

  8. Lisa Wollin says:

    Hi, Adam,

    Thanks for your feedback. I will forward this onto the FrontPage product group. I’m sure they will find your comments helpful.


  9. David says:

    I think that Front page is pretty good. It does the job but it doesn’t get very detailed. I think that Dreamweaver is better.

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